Sheep fleece paths provide eco-friendly alternative for nature reserve

Western Isles sheep fleeces have replaced plastic membranes in paths at a nature reserve in Uist, Scotland.

Wardens at a Scottish nature reserve have found an innovative use for sheep fleeces.

The team at RSPB Scotland have been swapping plastic for wool when constructing footpaths at a Uist nature reserve.

The fleeces are placed under stones to stop the paths from sinking into peat, as well as allowing water to drain more easily and negating the need for a plastic membrane.

‘The normal way you would put in paths would be to have a plastic membrane and then put stones on top,’ said reserve warden Heather Beaton.

‘But its not what we want for the reserve. We heard about sheep wool paths were being experimented with in other parts of Scotland and we thought we would give that a shot.’

The ancient technique is already being used in the Pentland Hills.

Ian Combe, a member of Friends of the Pentlands, said the fleece paths were ‘very effective’ in establishing a membrane over boggy areas.

‘A contact of ours who has much experience of path work in the Mourne Mountains had heard stories of sheep fleece being used in the foundations of railway viaducts in the west of Ireland and other reports in the UK,’ he said.

Sheep fleeces have also been used to restore paths in the Lake District, including a path at Angle Tarn in Langdale.

A group of volunteers used wheelbarrows to transport the fleeces and equipment up a 1,500ft ascent.

Rob Clark, from Fix the Fells, said the method had been used for ‘hundreds, if not thousands of years’ to form a base on areas of bog and peat.

‘When grassy sward has been trampled by years of walking boots, it dies off, leaving exposed peaty soil, which erodes and turns into bog,’ he said.

‘Once buried, it hardly ever rots and will last the lifetime of a path. For surfacing, we use pinnel, a glacial subsoil dug from ‘borrow’ pits nearby.’